En Route For Touraine
( Originally Published 1911 )
HOTEL DE LA CLOCHE, DIJON, August 26th.
WE STOPPED at this interesting old town last night in order to break the long journey from Geneva to Paris. Dijon, which has only been to us a station to stop in long enough to change trains and to look upon longingly from the car windows, proves upon closer acquaintance to be a town of great interest. After a morning spent among its churches and ancient houses and in its museum, we were quite ready to echo the sentiments of an English lady whom we met at the table d'hote, who spends weeks here instead of days, and wonders why travellers pass Dijon by when it is so much more worth while than many of the places they are going to. So much is left of the ancient churches and buildings to remind one of the romantic and heroic history of Dijon, that it seems eminently fitting that we should make this stop-over, a visit to the capital city of Burgundy being a suitable prelude to a sojourn among the châteaux of the French kings, who had their own troubles with these powerful lords of the soil. The present Hotel de Ville was once the palace of the Dukes of Burgundy. Little is now left of the original building with the exception of the ancient kitchens, and these, with their half-dozen great ventilating shafts, give one the impression that those doughty old warriors had sensitive olfactories.
In the Cathedral of Saint Bénigne, who seems to be the patron saint of Dijon, are the remains of the great Dukes of Burgundy, although their magnificent tombs are in the museum. The Cathedral of Saint Bénigne has a lovely apse and other architectural charms; but Notre Dame captivated us utterly, so wonderful are its gargoyles representing man and beast with equal impartiality, their heads and shoulders emerging from a rich luxuriance of sculptured foliage, the whole indescribably beautiful and grotesque at the same time. It is not strange that the carved figure of a plump and well-fed Holy Father, with his book in one hand and food in the other, sitting beside an empty-handed and mild-faced sheep, should have called forth such lines as the following from some local poet, evidently intended for the remarks of the sheep :
Volontiers les humains s'apellent fortes-têtes
Other decorators and sculptors of these ancient buildings have, like Fra Lippo Lippi, worked their own quaint conceits and humorous fancies into their canvases and marbles, and we today are filled with wonder at their cleverness, as well as over the excellence of their art, so exquisite is the carving of leaf and branch and vine. One would need to come often to the Galerie des Tours of Notre Dame to fully enjoy it, and other beauties of this church, whose tower is crowned by a curious clock with moving figures, called Jacquemart, after the Flemish mechanician Jacques Marc who designed it. The Jacquemart, with his pipe in his mouth, stolidly strikes the hours, undisturbed by the cold of winter or the heat of summer, as some Burgundian poet of the sixteenth century has set forth in a quaint rhyme.
Near the cathedral is a charmingly picturesque building called La Tour de Bar, where René d'Anjou, Duke of Bar and Lorraine, was imprisoned with his children. In the museum, which possesses many treasures in painting and sculpture, we saw the magnificently carved tombs of Philippe le Hardi and Jean Sans-Peur. Here, with angels at their heads and lions couchant at their feet, the effigies of these Dukes of Valois rest, surrounded by a wealth of sculpture and decoration almost unequalled. It would be well worth stopping over night at Dijon if only to see the magnificent tombs of these bold and unscrupulous old warriors and politicians. Jean Sans-Peur planned and accomplished the assassination of Louis d'Orléans and was himself overtaken by the assassin a few years later. The tomb of the boldest and bravest of them all, Charles le Téméraire, you may remember, we saw at Bruges. The lion at the feet of the last Duke of Burgundy, with head upraised, seems to be guarding the repose of his royal master, who in his life found that neither statecraft nor armies could avail against the machinations of his arch-enemy, Louis XI.
Beautiful and impressive as are these tombs, the true glory of Dijon is that the great Bossuet was born here and St. Bernard so near, at Fontaine, that Dijon may claim him for her own; and Rameau, the celebrated composer; Rude, whose sculptures adorn the Arc de l'Etoile in Paris; Jouffroy, and a host of other celebrities, as we read in the names of the streets, parks, and boulevards, for Dijon, like so many French cities and towns, writes her history, art, literature, and science on her street corners and public squares, thus keeping the names of her great people before her children.
When we were studying routes in Geneva yesterday it seemed quite possible to go to Tours by Bourges and Saincaize, and thus secure a day in Bourges for the cathedral of Saint Etienne, which is said to be one of the most glorious in France, and not less interesting to see the house of the famous merchant-prince who supplied the depleted coffers of Charles VII, Jacques Coeur, the valiant heart to whom nothing was impossible, as his motto sets forth. At the tourist office we were told that such a crosscut to Tours was quite out of the question, impossible, and that the only route to the château country was via Paris. It seemed to us a quite useless waste of time and strength to go northward to Paris and then down again to Tours, which is south and a little west, but having no knowledge on the subject and no Bradshaw with us to prove our point, we accepted the ultimatum, although Miss Cassandra relieved her feelings by saying that she did not believe a word of it, and that tourist's agents were a stiff-necked and untoward generation, and that she for her part felt sure that we could cut across the country to Saincaize and Bourges. However, when we hear the questions that are asked these long-suffering agents at the tourist offices by people who do not seem to understand explanations in any language, even their own, we wonder that they have any good nature left, whatever their birth-right of amiability may have been. Here, in Dijon, we find that we could have carried out our charming little plan, and Walter, realizing my disappointment, suggests that we take an automobile from here to Saincaize and then go by a train to Bourges and Tours. This sounds quite delightful, but our Quaker lady, having turned her face toward the gay capital, demurs, saying that "We have started to Paris, and to Paris we had better go, especially as our trunks have been sent on in advance, and it really is not safe to have one's luggage long out of one's sight in a strange country." This last argument proved conclusive, and we yielded, as we usually do, to Miss Cassandra's arguments, although we generally make a pretence of discussing the pros and cons.
PARIS, August 29th.
When we reached Paris on Saturday we soon found out why we had come here, to use the rather obscure phrasing of the man of the party, for it speedily transpired that Miss Cassandra had brought us here with deliberate intent to lead us from the straight and narrow path of sightseeing into the devious and beguiling ways of the modiste. She has for some reason set her heart upon having two Paris gowns, one for the house and one for the street, and Lydia and I, being too humane to leave her unprotected in the hands of a dressmaker who speaks no English, spent one whole afternoon amid the intricacies of broadcloth, messaline, and chiffon. Of course we ordered some gowns for ourselves as a time-saving measure, although I really do not think it is usually worth while to waste one's precious hours over clothes when there is so much to be done that is better worth while. However, the shades of mauve, and all the variants of purple, which are set forth so alluringly in the windows are enough to tempt an anchorite, and no more decided color attracts us, as blues and greens seem crude and startling beside these soft shades, which came in with the half-mourning for King Edward and are still affected by Parisians of good taste.
Our Quaker lady has become so gay and worldly-minded, since her signal triumph with the American countesses in her merry widow, that we are continually reminded of the "Rejuvenation of Aunt Mary," and Lydia and I have to be on the alert to draw her away from the attractions of windows where millinery is displayed, lest she insist on investing in a grenadier, or in that later and even more grotesque device of the modiste, the "Chantecler."
To compensate for the time lost at the dressmakers, we had two long beautiful mornings at the Louvre and a Sunday afternoon at the Luxembourg, followed by a cup, of tea and a pleas-ant, sociable half-hour at the Students' Hostel, on the Boulevard Saint-Michel, a delightful, homelike inn where many young women who are studying in Paris find a home amid con-genial surroundings. A little oasis in the desert of a lonesome student life, this friendly hostel seemed to us. Several women whom we knew at home were pouring tea, and we met some nice English and American girls who are studying art and music, and the tea and buns brought to us by friendly hands made the simple after-noon tea take upon it something of the nature of a lovefeast, so warm and kindly was the welcome accorded us.
Pension B—, Tours, August 30th.
We left Paris yesterday from the Station Quai d'Orsay for our journey of three and a half hours to Tours. So near to Paris is this château land of Touraine that we wonder why we have not all been journeying this way full many a year, instead of waiting to be caught up and borne hither by the tide of fashion, especially as our route lay through a land filled with historic and romantic associations. It is impossible to pass through this flat but picturesque country, with its winding rivers and white roads shaded by tall poplars, and by such old gray towns as Etampes, Orléans, Blois, and Amboise, without recalling the delight with which we have wandered here in such goodly company as that of Brantome, Balzac, Dumas, and Madame de Sévigné.
It was upon this same Loire, which winds around many a château before it throws itself into the sea, that Madame de Sévigné described herself as setting forth from Tours at 5 o'clock on a May morning, in a boat, and in the most beautiful weather in the world.
These boats on the Loire, as described by Madame de Sévigné, were evidently somewhat like gondolas. "I have the body of my grande carosse so arranged," she wrote, "that the sun could not trouble us; we lowered the glasses; the opening in front made a marvellous picture, all the points of view that you can imagine. Only the Abbé and I were in this little compartment on good cushions and in fine air, much at our ease, altogether like cochons sur la paille. We had potage et du boulli, quite warm, as there is a little furnace here; one eats on a ship's plank like the king and queen; from which you see how everything is raffiné upon our Loire!"
Down this same river M. Fouquet, the great financier, fled from the wrath of his royal master and the bitter hatred of his rival Colbert. On the swift current the lighter sped, carried along by it and the eight rowers toward Nantes and Fouquet's own fortress of Belle Isle, only to be overtaken by Colbert's boat with its twelve sturdy oarsmen. Whatever may have been the sins of Fouquet, he had so many charming traits and was so beloved by the great writers of France—Molière, La Fontaine, Madame de Sévigné, Pelisson, and all the rest whom he gathered around him at his château—that our sympathies are with him rather than with the cold and calculating Colbert. Putting their hands into the public coffers was so much the habit of the financiers and royal almoners of that period that we quite resent Fouquet's being singled out for the horrible punishment inflicted upon him, and after all he may not have been guilty, as justice often went far astray in those days, as in later times.
Whether or not M. Fouquet was the "Man with the Iron Mask," as some authorities relate, we shall probably never know. Walter, who is not a fanciful person, as you are aware, is inclined to believe that he was, although his beloved Dumas has invented a highly dramatic tale which makes a twin brother of Louis XIV, the mysterious "Man with the Iron Mask."
In the goodly company of Madame de Sévigné, her fablier, as she dubbed La Fontaine, M. Fouquet, and our old friends the three Guards-men, you may believe that the journey from Paris to Tours did not seem long to us. I must tell you of one contretemps, however, in case you, like us, take the express train from the Quai d'Orsay. Instead of being carried to our destination, which is a railroad courtesy that one naturally expects, we were dumped out at a place about twenty miles from Tours. We had our books and papers all around us, and were enjoying sole possession of the compartment, when we were suddenly told to put away our playthings and change cars. We asked "Why? as we had understood that this was a through train, but the only response that we could get from the guard was, "St. Pierre le Corps, change cars for Tours!" So bag and baggage, with not a porter in sight to help us, and Walter loaded like a dromedary with dress suit cases and parcels, we were hurried across a dozen railroad tracks to a train which was apparently waiting for us.
"What does it all mean?" exclaimed Miss Cassandra. "What have we to do with St. Peter and his body? St. Martin and his cloak are what we naturally expect here."
"To be sure," we all exclaimed in a breath, but we had actually forgotten that St. Martin was the patron saint of Tours.
Miss Cassandra is worth a dozen guide-books, as she always gives us her information when we want it, and we want it at every step in this old Touraine, which is filled with history and romance. She also reminds us that between Tours and Poitiers was fought the great battle between the Saracen invaders and the French, under Charles Martel, which turned back the tide of Mohammedism and secured for France and Europe the blessings of Christianity, and that in the Château of Plessis-les-Tours the famous treaty was made between Henry III and his kinsman, Henry of Navarre, which brought together under one flag the League, the Re-formers, and the Royalists of France.
As we drove from the station to the hotel, the coachman pointed out to us the new church of St. Martin, which occupies a portion of the site of the vast basilica of which two picturesque towers alone remain. We hope for a nearer view of it to-morrow, and of St. Gatien, whose double towers we can see from our windows at the Pension B—.
We had expected to stop at the Hotel de l'Univers, which Mr. Henry James and all the other great folk honor with their regard; but finding no accommodations there we are temporarily lodged at this excellent pension. Although called a hotel by courtesy, this house possesses all the characteristics of a pension in good standing. There is no office, nothing to suggest the passing of the coin of the realm between ourselves and the proprietors. We are treated like honored guests by the ancient porter and the other domestics ; but of Madame, our hostess, we have only fleeting visions in the hall and on the stairway, usually in a pink matinée. Monsieur materializes on occasions when we need postage stamps and change, and is most accommodating in looking up train times for us. Above all, and most characteristic of all, there is in the salle à manger a long table surrounded by a dozen or more of our country-women, en voyage like ourselves.
Walter was at first somewhat disconcerted by this formidable array of womankind without a man in sight, and at the dinner table confided to me his sentiments regarding pensions in rather strong language, insisting that it was like being in a convent, or a young ladies' seminary, except that he had noticed that most of the ladies were not painfully young, all this in an undertone, of course, when lo ! as if in answer to his lament, a man appeared and seated him-self modestly, as befitted his minority sex, at a side table by his wife. Walter now having some one to keep him in countenance, we shall probably remain where we are and indeed a harder heart than his, even a heart of stone, could not fail to be touched by Miss Cassandra's delight at being surrounded by her compatriots, and able to speak her own language once more with freedom. The joyous manner in which she expands socially, and scintillates conversation-ally, proves how keen her sufferings must have been in the uncomprehending and unrequiting circles in which we have been living. It goes without saying that she soon became the centre of attraction at table, and so thrilled her audience by a spirited recital of her adventures at the Villa Carlotta that the other man cried, "Bravo!" from his side table, without waiting for the formality of an introduction.
"Quite different," as Walter says, "from the punctilious gentlemen in the 'Bab Ballads' who couldn't eat the oysters on the desert island without being duly presented."
Our new acquaintances are already planning tours for us to the different châteaux of the Loire, while Walter and his companion, who proves to be a United States Army man and quite a delightful person, are smoking in the garden. This garden upon which our long windows open, with its many flowers and shrubs and the largest gingko tree I have ever seen, would hold us fast by its charms were the Pension B less comfortable than it is.